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Founding of a hippie commune

24 June 2016

The Glade Within The GroveThe Glade Within The Grove by David Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book about the establishment of a hippie commune in 1968/69 in southern New South Wales.

The story is told by a retired postman, who discovers the manuscipt of an epic porm on the topic in the bottom of an old mail bag, The Ballad of Erinungarah . He asked a friend, Kimberley Moon, about the poem, and tried to follow up the events of 27 years previously, when the members are scattered or dead, and the children have grown up,

I found it an interesting and good read, and found it particularly interesting because the people involved in starting the commune were about my age, and in the same period I was involved in starting a commune, though of a rather different kind. Another reason for finding it interesting is that, though the location was fictional, the general area was at one time the home a relative of my wife Val. Her name was Agnes Green, and she lived a very interesting life, part of it in Southern New South Wales. Her first husband, William Wilson, was drowned in the Tuross River there, in 1852, when it was the scene of a gold rush.

In addition to starting the commune in a very isolated valley, the inmates also developed a neopagan cult, in which several of the males of the group emasculated themselves. The narrator, the eccentric retired postman D’Arcy D’Olivera, interprets this in the light of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and sees parallels with the ancient cult of Cybele.

The style reminded me of some of the books of Peter Tinniswood, such as A touch of Daniel, which give a vivid picture of life in the vicinity of Manchester in England in the same period. Tinniswood’s writing was contemporary, while Foster’s book was written nearly 30 years afterwards, and occasionally makes remarks about not meing sure whether some things were true to the period. I’d be interested in knowing what people from Australia who were alive at that time think of its authenticity of description.

I enjoyed it, but perhaps younger people, who have no memories of that period, might not like it so much. Whether the descriptions of life in Sydney are accurate to the period, a lot of the things that went into the starting of a commune, the disparate aims and unfocussed discussions about its purpose, sounded very familiar.

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